The final chapter or scene in any novel is incredibly important because if a writer messes it up, that’s what the reader will remember forever.
I can think of several times when the final moments in a book have colored my opinion of an entire book negatively. In Veronica Roth’s Divergent (read my entire review at goodreads), I thought that the ending happened too suddenly, out of nowhere, and getting to the climax lacked transition. When I’m reading something as intense as that, something with a new world that sits in dystopia or whatever, I expect a satisfying punch at the end, and what I got frustrated me and marred my view of the book entirely.
Whereas I gave Divergent 4 stars overall yet didn’t ever continue with the series, the better example would be Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, which had such a rage-inducing ending that I literally threw the book across the room (no, seriously, as my BFF Becky, who was witness to it). Seriously. Deus ex machina has no place in contemporary realistic fiction, and yet that’s exactly what Picoult pulled. I’m told that most of her novels pull those type of shock and awe endings, and it does nothing for me. In fact, what it does for me is tell me I can’t trust the writer for any reason at all. Books with those kind of endings aren’t worth my time.
To no one’s surprise, Gone Girl toed the line in this area, too. I mean, it wasn’t that the ending was wrong — because it wasn’t. It also wasn’t that the ending made me unhappy or dissatisfied either. What it did was take me on a roller coaster of emotion and make me question everything I knew about the book and, more importantly, life in general. In Flynn’s case here, she has the potential to divide her audience into people who loved the ending and who hated it, but in my opinion, it didn’t negatively cloud the rest of the book the way other endings have.
And then there are some novels that are just unsatisfying when it comes to the ending. These novels I can’t really even pick out of a crowd because they are the 3 and 4 starred novels that I can’t say explicitly now what I didn’t like. It may have been the writing or the plot but more than likely it was the ending, because if it’s bad writing or uninteresting plot, I’m at the point in my life where I finally just close and discard the book. So chances are good that if I finish a novel feeling eh or unsatisfied, it’s because the ending didn’t do anything for me.
All this to say that writing endings is hard. Like, really, really hard. Very few people get it right. People get close enough to right that it works, but the perfect ending? I don’t think it’s possible to achieve.
My endings seem to sneak up on me. I don’t always prepare for them. The endings to my last three finished novels all manifested differently.
With Birthright, a steampunk, alternate history novel, I eventually realized the first ending (the one I queried with to over half the agents I sent to) was wrong. Frankly, the book ended too soon. I skipped a concluding climax. I didn’t wrap up a major plot point. I was blind to it because I just wanted to finish the book. Eventually I wised up, rewrote the ending, and it fits a lot better. It’s still open-ended (and is meant to be, you know, for sequel/series potential), but it’s better.
The ending to The Rules of Summer Camp came at a natural point in the story. I was writing an important and necessary scene and suddenly realized I was writing the end. In that case, it wasn’t the ending the posed a problem but rather all of the scenes that came before it. I had to massage everything so that the ending fit and worked as an ending rather than just another scene.
I actually did plan the ending to my recently-finished novel. Not from the start but by about the halfway mar, the idea for the final scene emerged. Honestly, I really, really love my ending. It’s the right amount of emotional, wraps up the story, I think, in a great way, and it’s oh-so-satisfying. (Now that I’ve said that, my writing group will hate it…) Every time I read for edits and revision, I like it more and more. For me, this means that this is my first finished novel where I am completely satisfied with the ending, with how everything turns out. If I were reading this book as a reader, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings both because I just finished a novel and also because I’ve been reading a ton this summer. Endings are important to me. They’re like a tongue-happy dessert at the end of the meal. They are the last words on the page, the last feelings we’re left with, the last part of the story that lingers in our memory as we move on.
I just want to get my endings right.